Manly Honor: Part I — What Is Honor?
by BRETT on OCTOBER 1, 2012 • 71 COMMENTS
in A MAN'S LIFE, ON MANHOOD
Across cultures and time, honor and manliness have been inextricably tied together. In many cases, they were synonymous. Honor lost was manhood lost. Because honor was such a central aspect of a man’s masculine identity, men would go to great lengths to win honor and prevent its loss.If we take even a cursory look at history, honor pops up over and over again as a central theme in literature and life. The epic poems of Homer are primarily about honor and man’s quest to achieve and maintain it. If you read Shakespeare’s plays with a close eye, you’ll find that honor and manhood take center stage as reoccurring themes. During the 17th and all the way into the early 20thcentury, upperclass men in Europe and the United States regularly engaged in duels on “fields of honor” to defend their manhood. When signing the Declaration of Independence, the American Founding Fathers “mutually pledged to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
But what exactly is honor?
We throw the word around quite a bit in our modern lexicon and give it a lot of lip service,but if you were to ask someone, “What is honor?” you’ll likely be answered with furrowed brows and head scratches. We think we know what it is, but often find it difficult to articulate when pressed. If you’re lucky enough to get an answer out of someone, they’ll likely say that honor means being true to a set of personal ideals, or being a man of integrity.
Honor=integrity is the point to whichthe definition of honor has evolved and what it generally means in our society today. In fact, it’s how we defined honor in our book, The Art of Manliness Manvotionals.
That definition of honor, while correct in our modern use of the word, doesn’t really capture the concept of honor that Homer wrote about, that countless duelists died for, and that our Founding Fathers swore upon. Except for afew pockets of society like the military, fire departments, and criminal gangs, honor, as millions of men from the past understood it, barely exists in the modern West. When folks in the mainstream do bring up this type of honor, it’s usually done in jest. (See Man Code or Bro Code).
And while there are certainly some very troubling aspects of honor as it was understood in the past (which we’llexplore), I believe that part of the decline of manhood in America and other Western countries can be traced in part to a lack of a positive notion and healthy appreciation of the kind of classic honor that compelled (and checked) our manly ancestors.
Over the next few weeks, we’re going to explore honor — what it is, its history and decline in the West, and its moral quandaries. We’ll alsoinvestigate how we can revive manly honor in a culture that fears, mocks, and suppresses it.
Today, we’ll begin by exploring what honor is. This post will lay the foundation of our discussion over the next few weeks. I’ll be honest with you: once you move beyond surface definitions, honor is not an easy topic to understand and requires you to really get your cognitive gears in motion. Surprisinglylittle has been written on such an important subject, and the anthropologists, sociologists, and historians who have tackled it have tended to describe various parts and expressions of it, without ever seeming to find its core. For example one of the few books on the subject, Honor: A History by James Bowman, is filled with a ton of fascinating insights into the history of honor, but at the end, one isleft with the impression that Bowman himself wasn’t entirely sure what it meant. It is simply extremely difficult to recapture and describe something that was once so intrinsic to people’s lives that they did not feel the need to explain it. I cannot hope to do better than the academics who have come before, but I have tried to synthesize and distill out the most salient and important points to...
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